The professor slid the large brown envelope across his blotter and inspected it in the light of his green-shaded desk lamp.
Attn: Prof. Walter Hill Davischop
Dept. of Anthropology
He plucked a fourteenth-century French athame from his pencil cup, sliced through the envelope’s seal, and pulled out a bulky sheaf of papers. The top sheet was a letter written in a neat, slanting hand.
September 23, 1922
Dear Prof. Davischop,
I am familiar with some of your research on Occult rituals, and I believe I have something that may be of interest to you. I discovered the enclosed manuscript in the false bottom of a drawer in the roll-top desk of my rented room at the Tumbleweed Inn in Cactus Corners, New Mexico. I had hoped a change of venue might inspire me to think of an ending for the novel I was writing, but after I read the following pages, I put aside my own made-up story and have since been concentrating all of my efforts on investigating the events described herein. I even visited Fluffytown (or rather, what’s left of it) in an effort to substantiate the veracity of the narrative.
Other than some stylistic edits — the writer was an adventurous speller with a deep aversion to traditional punctuation — the text that follows is reproduced exactly as I found it on the original sheets, which were yellowed with age and beginning to crumble at the edges.
The professor turned to the next page and was pleased to see the manuscript had been typed:
June 21, 1890
It’s been exactly one year since the sensational demise of Fluffytown, and I am still having the dreams. They weren’t too bothersome at first; even when they were unusually vivid, I was able to forget them by the time I finished my morning coffee. But lately I’ve been waking up in strange places — a broken-down boxcar, a hayloft, a tree — to discover I’ve built myself a nest out of whatever material was handy: scraps of canvas, alfalfa, maple leaves.
It seems as if the world in my dreams is beginning to peck and claw its way into my waking world, like an unborn bird eager to break through its thin shell. So before I completely lose my grasp of what is real and what is imaginary, I am going to write down everything I can remember about June 21, 1889, and the events leading up to that day (the actual events, I mean, not the version I’ve been telling everyone), in as much detail as I can muster.
I’d heard the rumors — disappearances, strange weather, inexplicable obsessions with barnyard fowl — and of course I was familiar with Tucker Hatfield, Jr.’s, hit song, “I Left My Heart in Fluffytown (Their Leader Ate It Raw),” which has a great banjo solo at the end. Fluffytown was famous for making the softest, snuggliest pillows in the world, but the process by which they churned out these cuddly cushions was shrouded in an ominous veil of mystery. People detoured widely around the small Kansas town, and sensitive travelers complained that passing too close to its borders triggered a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including dizzy spells, night terrors, and bouts of explosively percussive flatulence.
But I was desperate. I had no money, no friends, and no name. My face was on Not Wanted posters in every town from Armadillo Springs to Zodiac Ridge. I was really steamed about that. It was my life’s ambition to be featured on a Wanted poster offering a big reward for capturing me alive and a slightly smaller, but still impressive, cash prize for producing my dead body. That’s how you know people respect you.
I wasn’t always nameless. When I was born, my parents named me Patience, after my grandmother. But they soon discovered the name didn’t suit me. Whenever they tried to make me do a chore, even something small like making my bed, I would throw a terrific tantrum, flinging myself about on the floor and kicking and bawling until I got the hiccups. So they changed my name to Impatience, which did not improve my behavior in the slightest, although I suspect it made them feel a little better.
When I was eight years old, my parents traded me to a tribe of Indians for a pony. The Indians soon realized they’d been swindled and tried to get their pony back, but my parents refused. The Indians called me Little Stubborn Weasel, and they pawned me off on another pioneer family for a few pounds of tobacco at the earliest opportunity. That family named me Gertrude, which I thought was a step down from Little Stubborn Weasel. After they discovered I couldn’t sew buttonholes or make biscuits or even braid my own hair, they traded me to a different tribe of Indians for a three-legged dog.
This pattern continued until I lost track of how many people I’d belonged to. I noted with some resentment how my value had declined steadily over the years; one rancher bought me with a used bootlace, and he didn’t bother to name me at all. By the time his wife caught me teaching their children how to gamble — during the short time I’d been in the care of a gang of bandits, I had learned to cheat at Crazy Blackjack, Two-and-a-Half-Card Stud, Albuquerque Flophouse Hold’em, and Go Fish — I’d already won four pennies and a bag of molasses drops.
The rancher wanted to get rid of me after that, but he found there was no one left to barter with; it seemed everyone in the West had either already owned me or known someone who had. So I just wandered off his ranch one night and never returned.
And that’s how I became the Girl with No Name, an unwelcome drifter. I’d walk into a saloon and order a drink, and before I’d have so much as a sip someone would point at me and shout, “Hey! That’s her!” and the next thing I knew, the bartender would be chasing me out through the batwing doors with a broom and telling me not to come back. It was tiresome, and I was getting awfully thirsty.
So I decided to go to Fluffytown, the one place so isolated from civilization that no one would recognize me. I stole one of the horses tied to the hitching post in front of the saloon I’d just been kicked out of, which happened to be on the outskirts of Dodge City.
I chose the horse that looked the fastest in case someone saw what I was doing and decided to chase after me. No one did. I heard a few shots fired as I rode away, but bullets buzz around Dodge like mosquitoes; they probably hadn’t been meant for me in particular.
After two hours of riding through the long grasses of the Kansas prairie, I passed beneath the crude wooden archway that marked the entrance to Fluffytown. Preparations for a festival were under way; the buildings were draped with green and orange bunting, and every lamppost on Main Street was decorated with swirls of colored ribbon.
Also, there were chickens everywhere — pecking in the dirt in front of the blacksmith’s shop, nestled in a row on the general store’s porch railing, strutting across the roof of the town hall — but I had no way of knowing if they were there for the festival or if they were just part of the usual scenery, like pigeons in the big city.
My horse spotted a water trough in front of a stable and trotted over to it. I dismounted to have a look around while he took a long drink.
A few people had spotted me and were approaching. The first one to reach me was an older gentleman with a gray handlebar mustache. There was a six-pointed silver star pinned to the lapel of his coat. “Welcome to Fluffytown!” he said. “I’m Sheriff Danford. What’s your handle, stranger?”
That was a stumper. I looked around frantically for inspiration, knowing the longer I paused, the more suspicious I would sound. Some men were unloading barrels from a wagon in front of the general store. “Flour,” I said at last.
“A fitting name for a sweet summer blossom such as yourself.”
A lucky mistake, and a generous assessment on his part. I had been wearing the same dress for three months, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a real bath.
“Tell me, Flower,” Sheriff Danford continued, “are you a virgin?”
Well, that was a non sequitur. A small crowd had gathered around me by this point, including a young man with wire-rimmed spectacles and a bowler hat and two middle-aged ladies in calico dresses and bonnets. I didn’t see how the thing I’d done with that handsome cowboy that one time in the old mill was any of their business, and I wasn’t sure whether it would even disqualify me, technically speaking, so I just said, “yes,” because that seemed like the safest answer. I didn’t want them all thinking I was some sort of hussy.
The Sheriff smiled. “Excellent,” he said. “Wilson here will take care of your horse” — he nodded towards the young man, who was already leading my stolen horse into the stable — ”and Mrs. Butter and Mrs. Bean will show you to your room at the hotel, where you will be staying free of charge.”
I was starting to think this town’s unsavory reputation might be wholly undeserved.
“Tomorrow is the Feast of a Thousand Eggs,” Sheriff Danford said, “And you will join the celebration as our honored guest. But I’m sure you are tired from your journey, so for now I will leave you to the care of these fine ladies.” He tipped his hat before ambling back to the Sheriff’s office.
I followed Mrs. Butter, who was short and plump, and Mrs. Bean, who was tall and thin, across the street to a two-story brick building. There was a bar on the ground floor, but it was empty except for a few of the ubiquitous chickens on one of the tables. Mrs. Butter saw me eyeing the rows of gleaming bottles on the shelves behind the counter. “They start serving at eight,” she said.
They led me up the stairs to a landing with only one door. Mrs. Bean pulled a key out of her pocket and unlocked it. “Here you are,” she said.
“Is this the only room in the hotel?” I asked.
“We don’t get many visitors,” Mrs. Bean said.
I stepped inside. The room was pleasantly furnished with a cozy-looking armchair, a vanity with a mirror, and a thick braided rug on the floor. There was a large painting of a prairie chicken on one wall, and chicken-print curtains on the windows.
But the centerpiece was the magnificent bed, which was about eight feet square. It was framed in dark wood and piled with dozens of pillows in all sizes, shapes, and colors. I wanted to burrow into the pile and sleep for about a week. Before I could do that, however, I needed to take care of something. “Where is the privy?” I asked.
“We’ve recently had indoor plumbing installed in Fluffytown. Your bathroom is right through here,” said Mrs. Butter, pushing open a door I hadn’t even noticed. “There’s hot running water in the bathtub and the sink. If you need to flush the toilet, just pull on this.” She indicated a brass chain dangling from a pipe in the ceiling. The chain-pull, a dainty white ornament shaped like a chicken, added the final surreal touch to this porcelain wizard’s den.
“Is there anything else we can get for you?” Mrs. Bean looked pointedly at my dress, wrinkling her nose.
I took the hint. “Some clean clothes would be wonderful.”
“We’ll have some sent up. If you need anything else, just pop downstairs and mention it to Harry, the bartender, when he gets in. We’ll see you tomorrow, before the Feast.”
Mrs. Butter and Mrs. Bean each made a quick curtsy and left.
As soon as they were gone, I went into the bathroom. After trying the toilet — the chain pull was a hoot, and I flushed five or six times just for fun — I put the rubber stopper in the bathtub drain and turned on the tap, exclaiming in surprise when a torrent of steaming water gushed out of the faucet.
Beside the bathtub was a bench with a stack of towels and a basket filled with soaps and lotions. I picked up a bottle with the words, “Dr. Slugbottom’s Restorative Bath Tonic” printed on the label above a picture of a bald man with sad eyes and a spectacular set of muttonchops. I dumped the entire bottle into the tub, where it created a mountain of iridescent pink bubbles that smelled like eucalyptus.
I stripped off my dress and climbed into the tub, sinking down in the hot water until the bubbles reached my chin. I didn’t care what people said about Fluffytown; at that moment, it was officially the greatest town in the country, as far as I was concerned. I could feel the bath tonic working to loosen the layers of dirt that were caked on my body, and three washes with “Dr. Slugbottom’s Rosehip and Opium Shampoo” got all the oil and grime out of my hair. A girl could get used to this, I thought. If I lived here, I would have a bath twice a week.
After soaking for half an hour, I dried myself off and splashed on some toilet water made with oil of violets (another concoction from the enterprising Dr. Slugbottom). Hanging from a peg on the back of the bathroom door was a satin robe. I put it on, relishing the feel of the luxurious fabric against my clean skin.
A blue poplin dress was draped over the armchair. Someone must have delivered it while I was in the bath, which made me feel a little weird. It was plain but well made. Tucked discreetly next to it were a linen petticoat, a pair of muslin drawers, and some cotton stockings. A pair of serviceable lace-up shoes completed the outfit. I tried everything on, and it all fit reasonably well, although the shoes were a little tight.
Once I was dressed, I figured I might as well go downstairs for a while before turning in for the night. According to the clock on the nightstand, it was a quarter past eight.
There were only a few patrons in the saloon, mostly men. In one corner stood a battered upright piano, where a woman with frizzy red hair was plunking out “Daisy, Put Your Knickers On” with a pokey sullenness I admired tremendously. A chicken was sleeping on top of the piano with its head tucked under its wing.
I recognized a young man in a bowler hat and glasses sitting at the bar, sipping a beer, and I took the seat next to his. “Hello,” I said. “It’s Wilson, right?”
He looked up. “Yes, that’s right. And you’re Flower. You’ve, ah, changed your clothes,” he said.
“Yes,” I agreed.
He seemed to think this concluded our conversation, so I had to step in. “You may buy me a drink if you like,” I said.
He blinked. “Oh. Thank you.”
Wilson called to the bartender, who was wiping down the counter with a rag. “Harry, Flower here will have a . . . ”
Harry poured me a whiskey. His resemblance to Dr. Slugbottom was so striking that I wondered if he had a side business in the design and manufacture of ladies’ bath products.
I took a sip of my whiskey and turned to Wilson. “So, what time is this egg thing tomorrow?”
“The Feast? It’ll start at noon, assuming the blizzard is over by then. It’s usually finished by dawn, but one year it didn’t die down until early evening.”
“The blizzard,” I repeated.
It was June. I searched Wilson’s face for signs that he might be joking, but his expression was as solemn as a tombstone. What’s more, Harry/Dr. Slugbottom was nodding in agreement, as if summer blizzards were a perfectly predictable annual event, like Thanksgiving or Wyatt Earp’s birthday.
I finished my whiskey in one burning swallow and set my empty glass down on the bar. I’d been planning to let Wilson buy me another one, but I decided I’d had enough of these two nutters for one evening. “Well, I’m off to bed. Good night, fellas.”
When I returned to my room, I saw someone had lit the lamp on the nightstand and left a pretty chiffon nightgown on the armchair. I put it on, and then I realized I wasn’t very tired after all. Despite the many comforts of my room and the warm welcome with which I had been received, there was no denying the persistent strangeness of the whole town, and the odd interaction I’d had with the gentlemen downstairs had left me discombobulated.
I looked around for a book, because those always put me right to sleep, but there weren’t any. My eyes fell on the chicken painting, which was the only decoration in the room. [Editor’s note: the painting in the description that follows miraculously survived the Fluffytown disaster unscathed, with only a shallow scratch on one side of the frame. I pulled it out of the wreckage with my own hands.]
It was clearly the work of an amateur; there were big globs of paint in some places, and unnatural shadows gave the whole thing a sinister feel. At first glance, it looked like an ordinary prairie chicken standing on a pile of tiny white pebbles, but a closer examination revealed that the pebbles were actually human skulls. This was pretty terrible in and of itself, and it also caused a horrifying shift in perspective, because if the skulls were of normal size, then the chicken must be at least thirty feet tall.
While this unsettling observation was sinking in, other disquieting details began to assert themselves. The creature’s feet were plated with moldy green scales, and each armored toe ended in a scythe-like talon. The one black eye visible in profile gleamed with cold intelligence. The beak was open just enough to reveal a hint of what could only be teeth, and protruding from between them was a sinuous forked tongue. Somehow worse than studying the individual parts was the effort to comprehend the awfulness of the whole, which was both undeniably a chicken yet also something else entirely.
Staring at it was starting to give me a headache, so I opened a window to let in some fresh air. As I leaned forward to draw in a few deep, calming breaths, something small and white drifted down into my line of vision. A snowflake! I thought. Could those men downstairs have been right about the blizzard? I reached out and caught the falling speck in my cupped palm. It wasn’t a snowflake; it was a perfect feather, no bigger than a kernel of wheat and as light and airy as a dandelion seed.
It was a warm, clear night, and several rashes of stars had already broken out. As a full moon rose like a boil above the edge of the general store’s false front, several more feathers wafted down from the cloudless sky, tracing delicate spirals in the air. They seemed to be literally appearing out of nowhere, and I watched in amazement as they began falling faster and more thickly, filling the air until I couldn’t even see the light from the streetlamps. After a few minutes I had to close my window against the swirling torrent of feathers.
Clinging to the slim hope that someone might be able to explain all of this to me in the morning, I climbed onto the heap of cushions that covered the humungous bed. They were so soft my body almost didn’t know how to process the sensation. When I try to recall it now, I imagine lying on a pile of clouds on top of a stack of fleece blankets over a bed of thick, springy moss, but this suggests only a vague semblance of the level of comfort they provided.
I fell asleep instantly.
I might have remained in a state of blissful unconsciousness indefinitely if I hadn’t been shaken awake by a chubby hand at eleven o’clock the following morning.
“Wake up, dear! It’s almost time for the Feast,”” Mrs. Butter chirped.
I grunted and withdrew into the mound of pillows, pulling my head and limbs in close to my body like a turtle hiding in its shell.
Mrs. Butter giggled. She plucked the cushions deftly away one at a time, tossing them onto the floor until all that was left on the mattress was me, curled into a ball and clinging fiercely to a velvet-covered bolster.
Seeing there was nothing else for it, I rolled out of bed with a theatrical yawn.
Mrs. Bean was there, too. She had set a carpetbag on the armchair and was taking things out of it and placing them on the vanity. “Come here, Flower,” she said, beckoning me with a bony finger.
I don’t like being ordered around, so I wandered over to the window instead.
Main Street was buried under a layer of feathers that must have been four feet deep. In some places, the drifts reached all the way to the roofs of the buildings. I had to squint my eyes against their luminous whiteness. Some of the townsfolk were shoveling paths through the feathers, while others were scooping them up and stuffing them into large corduroy sacks. So this was the secret to the softness of Fluffytown pillows!
In my spellbound state, I didn’t hear Mrs. Bean approach, and I yelped when she grabbed my wrist and led me over to the vanity. Struggling seemed unwise — her grip was like a manacle — so I settled for pouting instead.
Mrs. Bean whisked off my nightgown in one brisk motion. She picked up a hairbrush and brushed my hair with long, quick strokes. Then she plaited it with orange and green ribbons. The result was quite pretty, but I did not give her the satisfaction of saying so.
There were some herbs tied in a bunch on the vanity, including parsley, chives, tarragon, and a few I did not know. Mrs. Bean picked them up and rubbed them between her hands, releasing a spicy smell. Then she dunked their tops into a small jar of oil and proceeded to start painting me with them as if she were whitewashing a board fence.
“What the — ”
“Stand still, Flower.” She clamped her free hand on my shoulder and gave it a warning squeeze.
When she was finished with the herbs, she blotted up the excess oil with a towel. “There,” she said, stepping back to admire her work. “Now we can get you dressed.”
I cheered up a bit when they helped me into my dress. It was made of green silk, embroidered with orange chickens, and cut daringly low in the front.
“You look lovely, dear,” Mrs. Butter said, beaming at me. “Doesn’t she look lovely, Mrs. Bean?”
Mrs. Bean sniffed. “She’ll do, I suppose. The last one was prettier.”
“The last what was huh?” I asked, nettled.
“Oh, she’s just being silly,” Mrs. Butter said, hooking her arm through mine and leading me out onto the landing.
“Wait, don’t I need some shoes?” I said, looking down at my bare feet.
“No, you’ll be fine just as you are,” said Mrs. Butter.
Mrs. Bean followed us down the stairs and out into the street, which had been mostly cleared of feathers. The people I had seen out the window earlier were gone, and the town was abnormally silent and still, as if the blizzard had muffled all the usual sights and sounds of life.
We walked up to the town hall and entered through the double doors. Inside were several rows of pine benches and a podium, but the room was empty.
“They’ve already gone below,” Mrs. Bean said. “I hope we’re not late.” She pulled open a heavy wooden door, revealing an ancient spiral staircase. The cobbles on the narrow steps had been worn to smoothness by the passage of many feet.
“You go first, dear,” Mrs. Butter said. “We’ll be right behind you.”
Something about this didn’t feel quite right, but once I was on the stairs, there was nowhere to go but down. Each turn of the staircase was lit with a guttering torch in a rusty holder. The stairs seemed to go on forever, with the air growing cooler and danker as we descended, but it was hard to gauge the actual distance when I could only see a few feet in front of me at any given time.
Finally, we rounded the last curve and stepped into an enormous chamber. I couldn’t tell how tall it was; the cyclopean stone walls were so high they simply vanished into darkness. An eerie glow emanated from what looked like floating balls of colored light, which turned out to be candles encased in globes of lime and tangerine glass on slim stands. Everyone from town was gathered inside the chamber, but the crowd looked insignificant in the vast gloom, like a family of mice huddled on the floor of a towering cathedral.
A man in a hooded robe stepped away from the crowd and approached me. Only his gray handlebar mustache identified him as Sheriff Danford; the rest of his face was covered in a complex pattern of orange and green greasepaint. The other townsfolk had smudges of paint on their foreheads, cheeks, and chins. Many of them were holding baskets of eggs.
I wasn’t sure where all of this was going, but I didn’t imagine it was anyplace good. I would have made a run for it if Mrs. Butter and Mrs. Bean hadn’t flanked me again.
Sheriff Danford took my hand and led me to the middle of the chamber, where a circular platform squatted on thick sandstone columns. We climbed the short set of stairs to the top of the platform, which was really a gigantic iron disk with curved edges forming a low border. I couldn’t imagine what it must weigh.
The Sheriff turned to address the crowd. “Friends and neighbors, faithful followers of the Fluffy God” — here he made a sound that was halfway between pronouncing a name and blowing a raspberry: Pthbthbt — ”who has once more blessed us with the Down from his Sacred Nest in the form of a Blizzard of Feathers, let us now demonstrate our undying devotion to him. Draw near, and prepare for the Feast of a Thousand Eggs!”
The crowd formed a circle all the way around the platform. There was just enough room for everyone to have a place at the edge, which rose to about waist level on the adults. Many of the children were standing on crates or buckets in order to see over the lip of the iron disk.
The Sheriff led me over to a block of pale yellow marble that stood like a pedestal in the center of the circle. I went along willingly enough. We were completely surrounded, so there wasn’t much point in resisting. Then, without warning, he grabbed my sides, lifted me into the air — his wiry arms were surprisingly strong — and set me down forcefully on the marble pedestal.
Except it wasn’t marble. As my bare feet sank into it, disappearing up to mid-calf, I realized it was a giant block of butter. Disgusted, I tried to lift my feet out, but Sheriff Danford had stepped out of reach, and there was nothing to brace myself against. I was stuck.
The Sheriff gave a signal to two men in the crowd, and they nodded and ducked under the platform.
As he spoke, the Sheriff paced around me in a circle, addressing the crowd. “There are some who would dismiss Pthbthbt as unworthy of our worship. Those in the Cthulhu cult mock him, calling him one of the ‘Not-So-Great Old Ones.’”
There were a few boos at this, but Sheriff Danford continued to speak over them. “On the glorious day when the Fluffy God descends from his Cosmic Henhouse, he will gobble up those tentacle-loving blasphemers like mealworms!”
The boos became cheers. Sheriff Danford tucked his hands into his armpits and chicken-walked back to the edge of the platform and down the stairs, thrusting his head out and flapping his elbows at every step. Some people in the crowd applauded, while others made enthusiastic clucking sounds or jiggled their baskets of eggs. The whole thing was so ludicrous that I began to laugh, holding my stomach with one hand while keeping my other arm out for balance.
My laughter trailed off as the crowd began to drift past me. The block in which my feet were planted was gliding gently towards the side of the disk, leaving a trail of melted butter behind it. When I realized I could feel heat baking off the iron beneath me, I finally grasped the hideous truth of the situation: I was in the world’s largest frying pan, and the Feast of a Thousand Eggs was going to be a colossal omelet with me cooked inside it like a human sausage link.
I reached the side of the pan and found myself looking down into a familiar face. The stripes of orange and green paint gave him a savage look that clashed oddly with his spectacles and bowler hat. “Wilson!” I cried. “Help me!”
I had a moment’s hope when I saw him reach out. Then he gave my block a shove and sent it sliding over to the other side of the pan, where someone else gave it another push in a different direction. It went on that way for a few minutes, with me zipping around the pan like a hockey puck on a frozen pond. I watched with mounting dread as the pad of butter between my bare feet and the hot iron surface melted steadily away.
When there was only an inch left, and the surface of the gargantuan griddle had a nice even coating of sizzling butter, Sheriff Danford selected a large egg from someone’s basket and held it up over his head. “Great Pthbthbt, we offer onto you these eggs, symbols of life, and also this girl, an innocent sacrifice. May the fragrance of our offering be pleasing to you, so that you will continue to bless us with your favors!”
Everyone in the crowd was holding an egg now; several of them had a few in each hand.
Sheriff Danford brought his egg down on the edge of the pan and cracked it open. He realized something was very wrong almost immediately, and he looked at me with a schoolmarmish expression of shocked disapproval that would have been funny under other circumstances. “Stop!” he bellowed, waving his arms. “The sacrifice is not pure!” He punctuated this by pointing a shaking finger at me.
Apparently, that thing with the handsome cowboy in the old mill did count.
But it was too late; the others were already swinging their eggs down when he began to shout, and no one had the reflexes to stop in time. The sound of so many eggs breaking at once was like a boot cracking through a scum of ice on a mud puddle.
The vapor that emerged from those eggs was an eye-watering horror that cannot be described. It was clearly demonic or otherwise supernatural in origin; nothing in our universe could possibly have produced such a noxious stench. In the darkest of my increasingly frequent nightmares, I can still smell it, and I wake up with the sting of bile in the back of my throat and the feeling that my nose hairs have been singed.
The odor was so powerful it actually had a physical form: a corpse-colored fog swirling purposefully through the air. I could feel it trying to squirm into my nostrils and crawl down my throat. The entire crowd collapsed to the ground, gagging and retching. Harry, the bartender, seemed to be trying to tear his nose right off his face.
I pulled up the hem of my dress and held it over my mouth and nose with one hand. I wrapped more of the material around my other hand to shield it from the heat of the pan as I pulled myself around the edge to the stairs. My heels were touching the hot iron now, and the pain gave me something to focus on besides the unfathomable miasma that had risen out of the broken eggs like a sulfurous phantom. I tipped myself over the edge of the pan and landed awkwardly sprawled but unhurt on the stairs. I scraped the softened butter from my feet and scrambled towards the door.
Just as I was about to start climbing the spiral staircase, the sound of many voices screaming in unison made me turn around. I caught a glimpse of something reaching down from the dark cavern of the chamber ceiling — it looked like a monstrous toothed beak — and then everything disappeared in a blast of green fire.
Feeling the heat pressing at my back, I hurried up the stairs as fast as my greasy feet would carry me. I burst through the doors of the town hall and raced towards the stable, almost tripping over a chicken as I ran. After I let the other horses out of their stalls, I mounted the horse I had stolen back in Dodge, not bothering with a saddle. I rode hard and fast, not stopping until we reached the next town. By that time, everyone for miles around could see the cloud of olive-green smoke rising from Fluffytown, and those unfortunate enough to be downwind from it could smell it as well.
When people saw me come riding up from that direction, they had a lot of questions. In my eagerness to fill them in on the details, I may have slightly exaggerated my own role in bringing about the town’s demise.
Turning over the last typed page, the professor found a continuation of the handwritten letter that had brought the remarkable story to his attention.
The manuscript ended there. It was accompanied by a wrinkled poster featuring a picture of a young woman with dark hair and a sharp jaw. Her thin lips are curved into an expression that could be a playful smile or a defiant sneer, depending on the angle or the viewer’s disposition. The accompanying text reads, “WANTED for Arson: Flower, the Fluffytown Firebug. Reward: $200 Alive, $150 Dead.”
I was hoping there would be more. In particular, I would have liked a more detailed description of the recurring dreams of which the author complained, because I have begun to suffer some odd nighttime visions myself. Perhaps I should take the painting down from my bedroom wall.
I would be most grateful for any insights you could lend me regarding this strange and mysterious account.
With Sincere Regards,
The professor squinted at the bottom of the last page. Beneath the illegible signature was what appeared to be a postscript written in a bold series of deep strokes, but he couldn’t make heads or tails of it. The dark lines slashed across the paper in furious, incomprehensible patterns, like the scratchings of a mad chicken.
LAURA GARRISON is creeping slowly southward. She is an amateur cryptozoologist and reluctant academic who dreams of becoming a wrecking-ball operator. She is easily distracted by bright colors and shiny objects.