“Have you chosen yet?” Warrick asked, curious as to his brother’s decision.
“I have, yes,” answered Zarrack.
“Yes, brother, but have you chosen wisely?”
“That depends on your definition of wise, I suppose.”
Zarrack paced pensively. He knew that his decision would not be a popular one, but he cared not what others thought. As the eldest, it was his choice to make, and if the other gods disagreed, well then, fuck them!
On the world below, in the not-so-distant past, the girl from his visions was filled with intense sorrow. So much so, he could literally feel her pain. So, while others believed he should choose to help someone poor, hungry, or sick, he had decided to help find a way to end the sorrow and pain of Amaryllis Stone. He’d felt a smidge of guilt, knowing it was not for her that he made this choice but for himself instead. It was a selfish choice, but he needed the intense, soul-wrenching pain to stop. And she would benefit from it, so what was the harm?
Warrick knew why his brother had chosen Amaryllis to be the benefactor of his choice. Yet, he couldn’t argue the fact that it would harm no one, and that both she and his brother would be released from pain and sorrow and know joy and peace. The others might not approve, but how could he fault his brother for wanting this? So, he would support Zarrack’s choice, and it would be done. Besides, there would be another who would know joy as well. So, fuck the others, indeed. This undertaking was not a squandering of his gift, as others had accused, but rather one of the kindest acts that Warrick would ever witness. Amaryllis had truly lost everything, but she didn’t give up. Why shouldn’t she be rewarded for her perseverance?
“Do you really have to become a chicken?” Warrick inquired, smirking. Picturing his tall, handsome, dark-haired brother as a farm animal pecking at the dirt for food was wickedly amusing. “Can’t you conjure a magical chicken to do the deed? I mean, all the chicken has to do is cross the road, correct?”
“It’s not that simple, brother,” Zarrack answered crossly. “The timing must be perfect! I want nothing left to chance.”
“Relax, brother!” Warrick said, “All will go as planned. You’ve got powers that many gods only dream of having. It’s why so many of them will criticize your choice. With such great power, you could heal a lame man, cause a blind woman to see, or even provide a home for a poor, starving child!”
“Go on, say it; I know you think I’m selfish and a bit daft for choosing, instead, to mend a woman’s broken heart. But I cannot make this pain leave me in any other manner. And I cannot bear it any longer!” Zarrack shouted.
“Just one person’s agreement is all that is necessary. You’ve got my support, brother. I cannot imagine what you feel each day, but I know that you’re no good to anyone if the pain continues to cripple you,” Warrick replied.
“Then I shall go at sunset,” Zarrack said resolutely.
“And you will succeed, brother,” Warrick reassured him.
Amaryllis was exhausted. She had cleaned five houses today and was dead on her feet. Since she had sold her car to afford food, she had to walk to and from each home with her cleaning supplies that she carried on her back. She was grateful that each of her clients had their own vacuum cleaner, so she didn’t need to lug hers around.
Her own home was a dingy shack that was located on the property of one of her clients. He was kind and took pity on Ammy when she had admitted, after cleaning his house, that she’d been living on the street or in alleyways. Not kind enough to offer her one of the four empty bedrooms in his grand home, mind you, but at least she was out of the elements and had a bed to sleep on instead of the ground.
Her life hadn’t always been this hard. She once had lived in a pretty blue house with a white picket fence with her husband and their two children. They weren’t wealthy by any means, but they were happy. Luke had been an artist, and she was an accomplished seamstress.
Then one night, when she’d been out delivering a dress that she had finished hemming for a woman in the next town, she came home to find her happy little home on fire. It appeared that Luke had knocked over a candle, which ignited the can of paint thinner. The Fire Marshall ruled it an accident and said that the explosion was such that her husband and children had likely died quickly and had not suffered much pain. But Ammy’s pain upon losing the love of her life and her family, along with her home and her sewing machine, which had been her only means of income, was unbearable. The insurance money was barely enough to pay for three funerals, with not enough left to secure a place to live. She was homeless, widowed, childless, and destitute. She considered going to the bridge and jumping into the river. But a voice had stopped her. A man’s voice that said, “Don’t give up; you’ll find peace again.”
So, she headed to a nearby town and did her best to make a new life, cleaning and scrubbing homes for the wealthy during the day and crying herself to sleep in her pathetic little shack at night. Each day she looked up to the heavens and cried, “When? When will I find peace?”
“Soon,” the voice would say.
But it never came.
On a night that seemed like any other, she picked enough vegetables to make soup for her evening meal. She sat on her front step, forcing herself to eat when she saw a brief flash of light.
She closed her eyes and rubbed at them. When she opened them again, she saw a chicken. The bird seemed to be pecking furiously at the dirt as if trying to gain Ammy’s attention. So, she got up and walked over to see what was up with the chicken.
“You’re a fat chicken, indeed,” Amaryllis said. “I wonder if I should eat you or keep you to lay eggs for me.”
The chicken just blinked.
“If I eat you, I will get three, maybe four meals out of you. However, if I keep you and you lay eggs, I shall be certain of at least one meal daily. Come on, then, let’s go, chicken. Inside with you. I will gather some hay in the morning. You can lay on this blanket for the night.”
The chicken followed her inside. The transformation had been more exhausting than he’d anticipated, so Zarrack welcomed the chance to sleep before completing the task he came to perform. Sleep came quickly for them both.
Morning peeked through the windows in the form of the rising sun. She had no curtains to block out the light, so she was up early, even though she had no houses to clean today.
The chicken stood up, and to Ammy’s delight, there was a single egg on the blanket!
“Well,” she said with a hint of a smile, “You’ve earned hay and some feed, it would seem.”
For one fleeting moment, Zarrack felt relief from the pain. He’d made her smile with a single egg. He felt certain that he could bring her joy again.
Later in the morning, Amaryllis was hanging up some laundry to dry, and she saw her new chicken wandering away from the house. She would need to build a coop, she thought.
But the chicken headed for the road and crossed before she could get to it. She suddenly realized that she was standing on the property of her rather ill-tempered neighbor, Simon Grant. She sighed. He didn’t care much for her and was not afraid to let he know this every chance he got.
“Miss Stone! Kindly get off my lawn!” Simon shouted.
“I’m sorry, but my chicken wandered over here after crossing the road,” Ammy explained. “I just came to retrieve it.”
“Why did the chicken cross the road?” Simon demanded. Then, realizing what he’d said, he let down his guard and laughed a little. Ammy couldn’t help but laugh too.
“Well, that’s an age-old question, isn’t it?” Ammy said, smiling.
“I’m sorry I was so short with you,” he said. “I’ve just been trying to get this grass to grow, and I’m not having much luck. It seems like every time I make some headway, something happens to muck it up.”
“My apologies, Simon. I need to make a coop for the chicken, but I haven’t had the chance to yet,” she said.
“I suppose I could give you a hand with that,” Simon said thoughtfully.
“I’d appreciate that very much,” Ammy said earnestly. “But I don’t have any materials at the moment, and I couldn’t pay you.”
“It would be to my advantage if you and your chicken would stay off my lawn. I’ll be back later with the supplies. For my troubles, perhaps you could cook supper for me.”
Ammy blushed. How could she make a meal fit for a man of his stature?
“Of course,” she said, unwilling to admit she had very little food for herself, let alone to share.
“Very well, I shall see you this afternoon,” he said.
After he was gone, Ammy cursed herself. Why hadn’t she offered to clean his house in exchange for the chicken coop? That would have been far wiser. Now she was stuck trying to figure out what she could do to make a meal.
She looked at the chicken. “I suppose I could kill you and make a roast chicken dinner.”
The chicken began to cluck and run around in a circle.
“I’m sorry, but what else can I do?”
She went outside to get the axe and then realized the irony of killing the very chicken for which Simon was making a coop. But what else could she do?
When she came back inside, however, her jaw fell open. There on the ground sat a dozen eggs.
“Oh, my! How is that even possible? You must be some sort of magical chicken. It would be impolite to kill you after you’ve given me all these eggs.”
The chicken seemed relieved, no longer flapping its wings around.
Ammy looked in her makeshift pantry and found some onions and potatoes. She ran out to her little garden and plucked some tomatoes and peppers from the vine. She checked her fridge and found a smidge of milk.
Before the fire that killed her family and changed her life forever, Luke’s favorite meal for brunch was her Veggie Frittata. It might seem odd for supper, but it was all she had to offer, and it would have to be enough.
It pained her to be making this meal for another man. But it wasn’t as if it were a date. She was simply offering a meal as payment for services rendered. Still, she shed a few tears as she whipped the vegetables in with the eggs. She missed Luke and the girls so much. It had been hard to survive without them, but the voice kept promising her she would find peace again. She knew Luke would be disappointed in her if she didn’t try to keep going. But most days, it took every ounce of energy to even get out of bed.
When Simon returned, Ammy realized she should provide something for his thirst. All she had to offer was water, but that would be better than nothing. Although she had no sugar, she could squeeze a few lemons into the water and make it more refreshing. She’d worry about what to serve as a beverage with the meal later on. Perhaps she had some cider.
Ammy watched through her window as Simon took off his shirt to begin cutting the wood for the coop. She blushed when he caught her looking and smiled at her.
The smile nearly did her in! She didn’t think he was capable of such an expression; he was usually in such a foul mood on the rare occasions they interacted. And why should she have such a reaction to the sight of him with his bare chest and muscular biceps?
She finished preparing the frittata on the stove and made some biscuits with the last of her flour as she watched Simon attach the wire to the wood posts.
When he was finished, he popped his head in and said, “I’m going home to shower quickly. I’ll be back for that meal. It smells delicious, by the way.”
Ammy merely nodded. She changed quickly into a simple blue cotton dress, put her hair up in a twist, and brushed a bit of gloss over her lips. Looking in the mirror, she decided she was passable and reminded herself that this wasn’t a date. After some consideration, she set the table and lit some candles so that the table would look presentable.
As she was about to make some more lemon water, having realized she had no cider, Simon knocked on her door. She answered and smiled weakly.
As he entered her shack, she tried hard not to be embarrassed by her surroundings. Instead, she focused on the scent of his cologne and wondered why it made her stomach flutter.
“I brought some wine,” he said. “Both red and white; I didn’t know what kind you like best.”
“Thank you,” she said shyly, relieved she’d have wine to serve with the meal.
“Keep the basket,” he said, looking a little melancholy. “It was my late wife’s, and I have no need of it. But I thought you might be able to use it.”
She set the basket aside and chose the white wine, figuring it went best with frittatas and biscuits.
As she served the meal, Simon surprised her again. “Everything smells delicious. I appreciate you feeding me. It’s been a long time since anyone has cooked for me.”
“I just assumed that you employed a cook in that big house of yours,” she said, hoping she didn’t sound impertinent.
“I used to. But what’s the point? It’s just me now, and I don’t usually have much of an appetite.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” she said quietly.
“What do you know of loss!” he said crossly.
Words failed her for a moment as her heart felt like it was being squeezed.
“I had a husband and two daughters once. I lost them in a fire,” she said as she pushed the food around on her plate.
Simon looked at her in disbelief. He felt like he’d been punched in the gut.
“You’re the seamstress.”
“I used to be a seamstress, yes.”
Simon’s eyes welled up with tears. “When my Adelaide got sick, she decided she wanted a beautiful gown for when death came for her. She wanted to be buried in the loveliest dress she’d ever owned. She hired a seamstress from a nearby town and kept it all very secret from me because she knew that I was in denial that she was dying.”
Ammy sat in stunned silence. She remembered the dress well and the woman who’d commissioned it but didn’t realize that Simon was her husband.
“It made her happy,” he said as a tear trickled down his cheek. “The happiest she’d been in ages. When she passed several months later, I tried to find the seamstress to thank her for making my wife’s final wish come true. But I was told the seamstress no longer lived in town, having lost her family in a house fire.”
Ammy couldn’t speak; she could barely breathe. Hearing his words brought the pain of her loss to the forefront again.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “You need to leave now. I can’t…”
Simon nodded and headed toward the door but stopped when the chicken started to cluck and run around in circles.
“What’s wrong with the chicken?” he asked.
“How should I know? I’ve never had a chicken before this one.”
Ammy scooped the chicken into her arms and did her best to comfort it. “There now, you’re okay. I’ve got you. I will take care of you.”
Simon’s heart melted. He took Ammy’s arm and led her to the couch. There, he sat with her as she held the chicken and cried.
“I know it’s just a stupid chicken, but I feel like he found me for a reason.”
Simon said nothing; he just observed as her soothing voice calmed the chicken. It was heartbreaking to know that she’d been a mother who’d lost her children so tragically. Clearly, she was very nurturing as the chicken cooed quietly and laid its head on her arm.
He debated leaving, but Ammy leaned against him and rested her head on his shoulder. “I know this isn’t about the chicken. I’m still so sad and angry that my world was upended, and I lost the love of my life, my babies, and my home. I was left with nothing. Not even my sewing machine!”
“Addie was my best friend growing up. I always thought we’d grow old together. Instead, cancer ripped her away from me and left me alone.”
They sat on the couch all night, sharing the pain of their loss. It was the first time either of them had talked about their spouses in depth to anyone.
Zarrack felt his own pain subside as theirs did. He knew that it was time to return to his kingdom. He had crossed the road and helped Amaryllis make a connection with Simon. The rest was up to them. He could meddle no further.
In the morning, Ammy woke and was startled to see she and Simon had fallen asleep on her couch in each other’s arms, no less.
When Simon woke, he looked down at the chicken and realized it was lifeless.
“I’m sorry about your chicken,” he said softly.
“I’m sorry you went to the trouble of making a coop for it, only to have it die the same day.”
Ammy seemed at peace, despite the fact that the chicken lived no longer. Simon suddenly realized that he felt at peace as well. And wasn’t that a welcome miracle?
He looked into Ammy’s eyes, found new hope, and silently thanked the chicken for its part.
“I know the answer now,” he laughed gently.
“The answer to what?” she asked, frowning.
“The age-old question.”
“Oh, you mean, why did the chicken cross the road?”
“So I could formally meet you, Amaryllis. I’ve spent all this time feeling like life wasn’t worth living, and then your damned chicken crossed the road, and you stomped all over my grass, trying to retrieve it. Building that coop gave me a purpose, something constructive to do. And having a meal with you was the first time since Addie’s death that I’ve enjoyed eating.”
Ammy felt the wall around her heart begin to crumble. “I’ve been existing, waiting for the peace that the voice keeps telling me I will find. But I haven’t been living. Cooking that meal for you was the first time I have felt alive since Luke and my girls died.”
Zarrack stood far above the Earth and felt his pain dissipate. He’d never understand why he was so connected to Amaryllis, but now that he’d helped her find her peace, perhaps he could get on with the business of ruling his kingdom.
“You did well, brother,” Warrick said. “Although I worried for a bit that she’d chop off your head and roast you.”
“Laying those dozen eggs so she would see my worth as a living chicken was truly painful,” Zarrack said, wincing.
“Do you think they will find love as well as peace?” Warrick asked.
“It’s not my worry. My quest was to help Amaryllis find peace so her pain, and by connection, my pain, would stop. I’ve done my part; the rest is up to them.”
A few years later, Zarrack wandered through the gardens of his world and felt an overwhelming joy. Although he’d promised himself not to, he took a peek and saw Amaryllis holding a babe.
“What shall we call him, my love,” Simon asked.
“For some reason, I feel attached to the name Zarrack.”
“Then Zarrack he shall be.”
And the gods smiled upon him and watched over him.