They Flew

by Jean-Paul Lor

Nothing is funny anymore, Bully tells me. That is, until he shoves and locks me in a cluttered gym closet with a girl I like, my violin partner, knowing I have the runs. He lets me out, but only once he’s stopped laughing and making juicy fart noises on the other side of the door.

I waddle down the hall in my sticky corduroy pants to the nurse’s office. Her nose doesn’t scrunch. Instead, she rubs my back and sends me home in a pair of joggers, warning me to stay away from kids who’ve seen too much.

The next day, Bully tells me no one’s ever made him laugh so hard, so he wants to be friends. I don’t have a choice; I’m a new ninth grader. We walk around campus, his arm around my mosquito neck, his chicken-poo breath stinging my nose and eyes. It has its perks—the one-bully-instead-of-five special. Sort of like jail, I imagine.


I give him my lunch Dad packs for me every morning: chicken, eggs, and rice with soy sauce.

“Who’s this?” Bully asks, lifting the Tupperware to the sun as if examining a crystal.


“Fluffy looks de-li-cious,” he says, French kissing a cheeseburger.

I name all the animals in our chicken coop. Several days ago, Fluffy was in my lap, purring as I scratched his neck before Dad forced me to get the ax. Before Dad calmed him down by hanging his body upside down. Fluffy looked at me under Dad’s grip on the chopping block just before I swung. I pretended I didn’t know him or what I was doing.


After school, we walk to my house alongside the train tracks. To the right of us, emptiness and dirt. On the other side, we pass by backyards with broken fences, windows with graffiti boards, and stripped cars. Clothes hang above a bicycle, and I wonder if the kid who owns it realizes how slow plastic wheels are.

Digging his long fingernails into my shoulder, Bully tries balancing on the rails, asking me questions, not because he wants to know me but because he doesn’t know himself: If I was on a deserted island with a chicken, would I eat it? If a killer made me choose between him and a chicken? If a chicken was trying to kill me? But what if God…? It’s hard for me to imagine a world in which a Bully and a God make sense, but I tell him I’d kill the chicken each time. He tells me I’m his best friend now.

As he thinks of another stupid scenario that would never ever happen, I spot a chicken up ahead, outside my backyard fence, flapping around the tracks.

It’s Yogi.

We drop our backpacks and run.

“Holy shit!” he shouts. “I thought they couldn’t fly!”

Yogi is tangled up in my dad’s fishing rope. I expect her to calm down when I get close, but she doesn’t. A tornado of dirt and feathers swallows her. I try to whisper to her it’s me, the boy who snuck her into his room one night, hiding her underneath his blanket, the one she never tries to claw or lunge at, but Bully won’t shut up about her flying.

Finally, she stops in the middle of the tracks.

“Hell yeah! Let’s tie it on the rails!” Bully commands, yanking me back.

But when he tries to snatch her, making chicken noises, Yogi lunges and pierces his eye with her claws. He stumbles backward and hits his head against the rail. I’ve heard louder thuds. Much louder shrieks. Seen bigger pools of blood.

Grunting, he reaches for me.

“You’re okay,” I tell him.

He tugs on my jeans, tries to push his body off the tracks. “Help me.”

“Hold on. I’ll be right back.”

When I inch toward her, she doesn’t move as if she knows she’s finally safe. Slowly, I pick her up and cradle her in my arms. I start untangling her body free, humming “Frère Jacque,” and, for a moment, I feel her drifting. She looks up at me and starts to purr.

Bully’s still on the rails, struggling and grunting, faint but clear like the distant sound of a pigeon. Maybe it’s because everything else is louder – the sound of Yogi’s chirps, the soft breeze brushing her white feathers. The sound of a world in which we make sense.

Or it might just be the horn from a train that keeps getting super loud until all I hear is this horn blaring so loudly the earth starts to rumble and shake, which makes my eardrums feel like they’re going to pop and bleed just before sharp metal wheels zip by, the wind slapping us back until it’s too late for him to see me point and say, “Now that, Bully, is a lot of blood.”

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