Luck Soup

by Chelsea Stickle

Things had been bad for a while. The recession hit, and people lost their jobs. The honeybee die-off became noticeable in grocery stores. Fruits and vegetables went for ungodly amounts. Since everyone refused to take responsibility for the catastrophic circumstances they lived in, the whole thing was chalked up to bad luck. And there was only one way to change luck. Virginians believe that seeing a cardinal is good luck, so cardinal watching became popular. The males with their explosive red plumage were easy to spot. It was a free activity that occupied people so they wouldn’t notice the whining in their stomachs.

Kenny Newman was the first to shoot one out of the sky with a slingshot. The stunned bird beat its wings against the ground. But Kenny pounced and pinned its wings against its body. He stroked its head and crushed its rib cage. Wordlessly, he brought it home and gave it to his unemployed father. His father, seeing the desperation in his son’s eyes, finagled a job hauling junk. Word spread of the Newmans’ luck—a job, any job. Soon all the children readied slingshots. Mothers became experts at plucking feathers and using bird bones for stock. Luck soup, they called it.

Once cardinals began selling for over fifty dollars, grown men got into the game. They used nets and guns and tennis rackets. The bodies piled up. Girls wore the fire-red feathers in their hair as a sign of prosperity. The brown females were considered lucky, but only on a technicality and not for financial gain. It’s not like anyone could tell the different between them and sparrows.

Cardinal hunting spread to other states. About half the country. Ornithologists had an edge on the competition. They checked shrubs for nests and kept track of clutches. Stole and raised the chicks in cages where their songs were smothered for safety. It was more sustainable than murdering all the males.

People hunted the cardinals until they couldn’t find any. The only living ones—pairs of love birds—could be found in the living rooms of the uber-wealthy, or kept cage-bound by breeders. Their whistles were no longer part of the soundscape. The pop of red missing among the snowbanks.

Then people decided hummingbirds were lucky.

Chelsea Stickle lives in Annapolis, Maryland with her black rabbit George and an army of houseplants. Her flash fiction appears in Pithead Chapel, Cleaver, Hobart, matchbook, Monkeybicycle, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and others. She’s a reader for Pidgeonholes. Read more stories at or find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.
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