The Cockatrice


Photo by: Janos Erdelyi in 1992

Cockatrice drawing made by art student Janos Erdelyi.

The exhausted barn sat in the middle of nowhere, left to its rot and decay. It was perfect for cock fights and the bettors. Rooster against rooster, fowl against fowl.

Entertainment fit for selfish, drunks, and those who wished to forget.

Though the sport was illegal, it didn’t stop the drunks from having a good time.

“I’ve been training Bucker for the last ten months!” blustered Isaac, the richest and only high roller among the bunch. A pile of cages filled with roosters grew a foot taller when Isaac placed his on top. “Wait till you see him kick!”

“You hag, it’s time you gave up your place,” Grayson spat, a handsome man with scruff growing in. He stuck out among the crowd, a tree among grass. In his twenties, he was always forced to the back of the crowd thanks to his humongous height.

Heads twisted when a petite man stalked in, white patches growing in his hair. The drunks peered to the competitor with judgment. “Well if it ain’t Bodie! I thought you’d skip. Not after last time’s horrible loss,” Isaac hissed.

The men at the tables hollered with joy. Bodie glared at them, bending over to murmur soothing words to the rooster he’d covered with a white sheet and cupped carefully against his chest. “You watch,” he belted after the chuckles died down. “This little man right here won’t disappoint.”

“Little man?” repeated Grayson. “You sure it ain’t a hen like last time?”

Laughter echoed.

Grayson, gaining confidence, hollered, “Who brings a female to a fight?”

Men bent over, wiping tears while pointing to Bodie. The man’s pale eyes darkened with rage. “All right. ALL RIGHT!”

The laughing cut off, men awkwardly shuffling. “Well, Bodie,” Isaac snarled with a curl of his lip, “If it’s a fight you want, I’ll give it to you. You and me.”

Bodie smirked. “I’m not losing.”

Isaac folded his arms and tilted his head, the flickering lights above catching in his pupils. “What’s your wager?”

“I’m gambling three hundred.”

“Three hundred!” Isaac rocked back on his heels. “I didn’t know you had that kind of money. Well then, I’ll bet five hundred on Bucker.”

Isaac smirked to the cages propped against the wall. His bird, a ragged fowl with missing feathers and scars over its face, pecked on the wire holding it back.

Bodie looked to the covered bird he held and set a hand on its head. “I’m changing the wager.”

Isaac cocked his head and frowned.

“A thousand.”

Isaac gaped to Bodie. “Do you have a thousand?”

Bodie shrugged. “Do you?”

Isaac’s face turned cherry, fury making his eyes pop. “If you’re going to play this way Bodie, I might as well join. I wager a thousand.”

He spat into his hand and held it out for Bodie to shake.

Spitting into his own hand, Bodie slapped his hand against Isaac’s. The two shared a knowing grin, their thoughts echoing into the other’s.

I will not lose.

“Grayson! Get Bucker out.”

The man lumbered and crouched to the cage, yowling when Bucker snapped at his finger. He quickly unlocked it and snatched Bucker, the rooster kicking and flapping against the man.

Eager to get it out of his arms, he thrust the bird into the center of the circle. Chicken wire wrapped around, standing twice the height of the bird inside.

Bodie stalked to the ring, glaring at Isaac while pulling the drape off his bird. Isaac grinned at the rooster’s milky eyes, believing it was blind. It was scrawny compared to Bucker, but at least an inch taller. While Bucker hissed and scratched at the ground restlessly, the new competitor stood with a dazed gaze.

Isaac wandered past hovering men and stood beside Bodie. “He doesn’t look well fed.”

Bodie smirked. “It’s for the better.”

Bucker charged for Bodie’s rooster. Bodie’s bird opened its mouth, a scream ripping the air. Men covered their ears in pain as the bird screeched. It stepped forward, the thin body beginning to grow. The feathers grew in size while the legs thickened and stretched into long sticks, the talons becoming swords.

Its neck lengthened, scales growing from the feathers. The beak flattened, scales sprouting upon the newly formed snout. A forked tongue slithered out while a snake tail swirled from its tail feathers. When it opened its mouth, fangs flicked out, saliva dripping. The men gaped at the beast, backing away.

The creature plucked Bucker off the ground like a piece of kibble for a dog, swallowing the bird. Isaac backed away, sweat dripping from his face. “Bodie, what is that?”

Bodie crossed his arms, grinning at the magnificent creature. “That, Isaac, is a cockatrice. Lovely thing, ain’t he? A winner to any fight.”

Isaac’s lip curled. “You little-”

His upcoming insult cut off as the cockatrice leapt over the chicken wire, hissing at the drunks. Grayson threw a beer bottle, the glass shattering upon the feathers. Mouth opening wide, it pounced on Grayson, swallowing the enormous man whole. Roosters clicked and screamed in their cages as chaos reigned in the barn. Isaac ran for it. The cockatrice’s tongue flicked out, tasting the fear.

In a few steps the cockatrice caught Isaac and bit his torso in two. His legs stuck into the air like a flag, the limbs disappearing into the creature’s mouth.

“Good riddance,” Bodie spat, running toward the exit. He followed the crowd, only to cry out from a sharp pain. Bodie fell and looked back to the beast, which snatched his leg into its mouth. The cockatrice threw Bodie like a chew toy, hissing. Slamming him to the ground, it placed its talons over Bodie’s chest.

“I brought you here!”

The cockatrice cocked its head.
“Because of me, you have food!”

The monster peeled open its fangs, saliva dripping onto Bodie’s face.

Drunks stormed from the barn and into the open, Bodie’s scream sending birds into the air. Shouted warnings carried from the crowd, pleading to any ear willing to hear.

No one came.