Night of the Zombie Chickens

BOOK: Night of the Zombie Chickens
2.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Copyright © 2014 by Julie Mata
Cover design by Vikki Sheatsley
Cover photographs © 2014 by Shutterstock
Designed by Marci Senders

Excerpt from
Kate Walden Directs: The Bride of Slug Man
copyright © 2015 by Julie Mata.

All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney • Hyperion Books, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023-6387.

ISBN: 978-1-4231-9589-4



To Antonio,

who always believed in this story,

who never said no, not even to chickens.

Con todo mi amor.


And for my mother, who taught me how to write,

and my father, who taught me what is right.

he last normal day of my life is a Saturday, and it starts pretty much like every other morning. When I go downstairs to the kitchen, my dad rattles his newspaper and my mother mumbles something in my direction and yawns. They both still have zombie faces, so I know they haven't drunk enough coffee yet. Wilma, our terrier, jumps all over me, whining and crying like she hasn't seen me in a year.

My mother's cooking eggs and the whole kitchen reeks, so I hold my nose as I eat a bowl of cereal. I hate everything about eggs. They're like nature's practical joke. They break if you barely touch them, and their disgusting glop oozes everywhere. Once they're cooked, they taste like boiled jelly­fish. Worst of all, eggs come from chickens. Don't even get me started on chickens.

I can feel my mother studying me as I hold my nose, like she's wondering if it's a battle worth fighting. Finally she just sighs and cracks another egg into the pan.

My dad pours himself a coffee refill, then looks over his newspaper at me. The caffeine is finally kicking in. “So, Kate, what's the plan for today?”

“Alyssa's coming over.”

“What are you two doing?”

“Working on my movie.”

“You need any more zombies?” He makes his best evil zombie face.

“You've already been a zombie,” I remind him. “And you got killed off, so it would be weird if you showed up again.”

He butters his toast and thinks about it. “I could wear a disguise, like a beard and a Panama hat. Or it could be like
Night of the Living
—you know, zombies that come back from the grave, over and over.”

My dad is a big fan of the movie I'm making. My mother isn't so sure. She tries to hide it, but I can tell.

I've made tons of short movies with friends, but when I came up with the idea for
Night of the Zombie Chickens,
I knew it had to be a real movie. Feature-length. Anyway, I read on a moviemaking Web site that if you want to be a director, the best way to learn is to just do it. Just make a movie. So that's what I'm doing. And they're right. I've learned plenty, mostly the hard way.

Night of the Zombie Chickens
is about a girl named Mallory who lives on a farm and hates eggs. She refuses to eat them, which is lucky for her. Very lucky.

From the corner of my eye, I see my mother toss down half a cup of coffee in one gulp and wipe her mouth.

“Have you fed the hens, Kate?” she asks, suddenly all business. Definitely payback for holding my nose.

I pour myself another bowl of cereal. Anything to put off the terrible moment. “Why do I always have to feed them? Why can't Derek ever do it?”

“We've already been through this. You feed the chickens, and Derek takes out the garbage and mows the lawn.”

“But I have tons of work to do for my shoot today.” I look to my dad, but he stays safely behind his newspaper. “I have to get all the props together, and I have to figure out the lighting, and I need more blood....”

“Chores come first.” There's an edge to my mother's voice. I know I'm on thin ice. Whining first thing in the morning is a risky move in our house.

“I bet George Lucas doesn't have to do chores before he makes a movie,” I mutter.

My mother decides to try a different tactic. “You don't want your leading ladies to starve, do you?”

My mother thinks I should feel responsible for the hens since they have roles in my movie. Personally I think the ladies could stand to lose a few pounds. Sometimes directors hit it off great with their movie stars, but other times they end up hating each other. I'd say the hens and I have a love-hate relationship. I love deep-fried chicken and they hate me.

You'd think they would be thrilled to do something exciting for once in their lives, instead of pecking at bugs and squirting out eggs day after day. But working with chickens has been worse than a zombie's nightmare. They can't cackle on cue or hit their marks or deliver a single crazed stare at the camera when I need it. Mostly they just run away and scratch at the grass.

At first, I thought maybe they were just too dumb. After all, chickens will poop in their own food if you let them, which is pretty revolting. But then I started to wonder. I got chills down my spine when I watched the movie
Chicken Run,
because some days, just like Mr. Tweedy, I could swear those hens are up to something.

Paranoid? Maybe—but consider this. It sounds like something right out of a movie, but it happened to me. It was just a normal day, except I was in a hurry, so I wore my flip-flops into the chicken coop instead of my mom's old boots. A hen decided my toes were worms and wanted to make them into a meal. When I kicked her away, my flip-flop flew off and hit her right in the head. It was an accident, but it was kind of funny, so I laughed.

I don't think hens like to be laughed at.

I refilled the feeders, then hurried to the door. It happened so fast I never saw it coming. A hen ran under my feet, and I tripped and fell right into a fresh, steaming mound of chicken poop. There I was, flat out on the chicken coop floor, dazed, smeared with greenish crap, and up waddled the hen that tried to eat my toes. She stood there, clucking, and then...

at me.

Now, my mother can argue all she wants that it wasn't the same hen, or that the poop wasn't strategically placed, or that hens can't wink, but I know what I saw. So I don't trust hens and I don't like visiting the coop. If it were up to me, those ladies would all go on a diet, starting today.

here should be a law that parents aren't allowed to make their kids work on Saturdays. It's the absolute best day of the week, and nothing ruins it faster than chores. And no chore is worse than feeding chickens, except maybe cleaning out their coop. I stir my cereal, trying to think of a way to get out of my job. Nothing comes to mind. “They're your chickens,” I finally mutter. “Why do I have to feed them? They're disgusting.”

Sure enough, my mother slaps the spatula down on the stove, and I know I've gone too far. Derek can call me warthog and she'll just shake her head, but talk trash about her hens and her feathers really get ruffled.

“You are a member of this family, and you have responsibilities,” she lectures. “In the old days, children on a farm spent hours doing chores before they even had breakfast. You and Derek have it easy.”

My mother watched way too many episodes of
Little House on the Prairie
when she was young. You'd think she had to feed the pigs and milk the cows and slog through five miles of snow to school every day. The truth is, she grew up in a suburb near Detroit and rode a school bus. Anyway, we don't live on a farm, just a tiny five-acre farmette.

I also know better than to point any of this out. I stuff my mouth with a doughnut just to make sure I don't let loose with a snappy comeback. That's a sure ticket to getting stuck cleaning out the chicken coop.

Derek trudges in with a nasty case of bed head. His eyes are crusted over and his mouth hangs open like an overstretched rubber band. He collapses in a seat and drops his head in his arms. As soon as my mother slaps a plate of eggs in front of him, though, he perks up and digs right in. That kid will eat anything. He sticks his fork into the yolks, and I have to cover my eyes so I don't see the yellow goo spurting out like alien eyeball juice.

Everyone else in my family loves eggs, which is a good thing, since that's my mother's new business—raising organic chickens and selling their meat and eggs. She used to dress in suits and heels every day and look really sharp. Right now, she's in baggy work pants and big shin-kicking boots, with an old bandanna tied around her head. She looks like a farmhand, but she says it's the best thing that ever happened to her, except for getting married and having Derek and me.

My dad folds his newspaper and looks at me. “Well, if you decide you need an extra scary guy, let me know.”

“I don't need a zombie,” I tell him. “But maybe you could be my gaffer.”

“Ha-ha,” Derek pipes up. “Dad's going to be a gasser—he's good at that.” Derek never misses a chance to joke about gas and farting. Luckily he's only in fifth grade, so we go to different schools. I'm in seventh grade at Medford Junior High. I already feel sorry for the teachers there, knowing Derek and his friends will descend on them next year.

I roll my eyes at Derek. “Gaffer. It's the guy in charge of lighting. The scene takes place in the basement, but it's too dark down there. We need to add some light.”

“Lighting, check. I can do that,” my dad says.

The guys who make movies practically have their own language. I'm keeping my own cheat sheet on all the lingo. Mostly I pick it up from Web sites on moviemaking. For instance, a plain old clothespin is called a C-47. I guess saying “Toss me that clothespin” doesn't sound fancy enough on a big Hollywood set.

“Isn't it time to wrap up this movie?” my mother asks in an overly cheery voice. “I bet you have lots of other ideas for movies.”

She knows this is a sensitive subject. I've been trying to come up with an ending for
Night of the Zombie Chickens
for months. I polish off the rest of my cereal and slurp up the milk.

“You can't rush art,” I tell her. She probably wants me to make a gushy romance.

“That's right,” my dad adds. “We could have a budding Spielberg here. We don't want to spoil her vision.” He gives my mother a look to remind her that she needs to nurture my delicate preteen self-esteem.

My mother sighs as she scrubs out the frying pan. “All I'm saying is that most movies are only an hour and a half long.”

Everybody's a critic. Sure,
Night of the Zombie Chickens
is probably three hours long by now, but it takes time to build a story.

My main character, Mallory, the girl who hates eggs, finds out that the local chicken feed company has been putting ground-up human bones in their product to save money. The problem is, the bones came from a graveyard that was a secret dumping ground for toxic chemicals, so all the local hens have been snacking on a foul stew of rotted bones and polluted muck.

The first time she read my script, my mother squinted like the light hurt her eyes. “Why chicken feed?” she asked.

I shrugged. “We have chickens. I need actors.”

“I'm trying to run a business here, Kate. My hens are not toys for you to play with.”

“I'm not playing,” I protested. “Making movies is a business, too.”

My mother shook her head. “There is no way that—”

Then my dad put an arm around her shoulder. He gave her another one of his looks. “Now, Jean, I don't think it would hurt the hens to unleash a little of their inner DiCaprio.”

My dad has been super supportive of this whole crazy organic hen operation from the start. He agreed to move to the farmette and he was okay with my mom quitting her job, even though it means we have a lot less money to live on. I know, because sometimes I hear them arguing about money late at night when they think Derek and I are asleep. I asked my dad about it once, and he said they weren't arguing—they were just
—but it was a pretty loud discussion.

Since the move, my dad has spent most of his weekends fixing problems with the house and building chicken pens. So after she got “the look,” my mother sighed and told me her company, Heavenly Hens, should get a special mention in the movie credits.

Anyway, it's not the length of my movie that bothers my mom. It's the plot. After the hens eat the bad feed, they start acting weird. At first no one notices. By the time people realize the hens have turned into berserk zombies, it's too late. Mallory's entire family, her neighbors, and, in fact, the whole town have all eaten the polluted eggs. Everyone turns into zombies and goes running around the countryside trying to turn Mallory into a zombie, too.

Still, as much as I hate to admit it, my mother is right. I need to come up with an ending. It's starting to keep me awake at night. I lie in bed and gnaw on my fingernails, puzzling over the last scene. Should it be tragic? Romantic? Explosive? Nothing seems right.

“So give us a hint,” my dad says. “Does Mallory turn into a zombie herself? Does she escape and find true love?”

I stare at my empty cereal bowl, but no flash of genius hits me. “I don't know. I can't decide how it should end.”

The missing last scene feels like a weight pressing down on my gut. Or maybe I just ate too much. I'm so full I can't swallow another bite, which means the worst part of my day has arrived. I push my chair back from the table with a loud protest screech and trudge outside.

It's a sunny blue-sky day. The air is so crisp and clean I wish I were shooting. Hollywood movies spend a lot of money trying to create this shimmery morning glow. On days like this, I don't mind living out in the country so much. Until I step into the chicken coop. As soon as I open the door, three hens try to dart past me. I manage to shoo two back inside, but one escapes.

The hens get to roam around outdoors, but not until the afternoon. In the mornings, they have to stay in the coop until they've laid their eggs. That means I have to catch the hen. But I can hardly run because my stomach is so full. I hurry after her, but she flaps her wings and darts away.

“I hate eggs!” I say loudly, to see if I get a reaction. She pecks at the grass, pretending to ignore me, but every time I move closer, she scurries away. “Chickens are dumb as rocks,” I call after her. I laugh out loud just to show I'm still in control.

The hen cocks her head and blinks her beady eyes at me. Finally I get an idea. I grab a handful of grass and sing out, “Chick chick chick,” which is how I call them at feeding time. I throw the grass into the air like it's feed, and sure enough the hen darts forward. See what I mean about dumb?

I return her to the coop, then refill the feeders and the waterers. I grab a basket and collect the eggs that have been laid so far this morning. As I turn to go, I notice an egg lying in a corner of the coop. This is strange because the hens almost always lay their eggs in the laying boxes. The egg is funny-shaped, more like a potato. It turns out the shell is paper-thin. As soon as I pick it up, it cracks open and the most ghastly, horrendous, unspeakable odor fills the coop. The air turns green, or maybe it's just my eyes going blind from the rotten fumes.

I stumble toward the door, my stomach churning from the horror of it all. I don't make it. Instead, I puke up my entire breakfast right there in the coop. Which the hens start to eat. Did I mention that chickens are revolting? I wipe my mouth and stagger outside into the fresh air. As the door slams shut behind me, I swear I hear the sound of chicken laughter.

When I tell my mother what happened, she totally dismisses the idea that the rotten egg was a revenge plot. “You've been watching too many movies,” she scolds. And then she starts worrying—not about her daughter, who just lost her entire breakfast—but about her hens. My favorite cereal is green and pink and blue, and it's definitely not organic. So my mother starts squawking that I shouldn't have left my breakfast behind for the hens to snack on. She runs outside and never even asks me how I feel.

My dad puts an arm around my shoulder and squeezes. I know he's probably thinking the same thing I am—that my mother prefers a bunch of organic, free-range, overachieving, diabolical hens to me.

BOOK: Night of the Zombie Chickens
2.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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